Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What the hell happened at NDU? (II)

By “Another PME Vet” Best Defense guest respondent I read the piece by Jerry Mitchell. I heartily agree with about 80 percent of it — NDU has been an accelerating disaster for a long time. The problem is structural: NDU was created to ‘support’ the component schools, but with a 3-star (now 2-star) NDU-P, it ...

via Carib Mendez/NDU/Wikimedia
via Carib Mendez/NDU/Wikimedia
via Carib Mendez/NDU/Wikimedia

By "Another PME Vet"

Best Defense guest respondent

I read the piece by Jerry Mitchell. I heartily agree with about 80 percent of it -- NDU has been an accelerating disaster for a long time.

By “Another PME Vet”

Best Defense guest respondent

I read the piece by Jerry Mitchell. I heartily agree with about 80 percent of it — NDU has been an accelerating disaster for a long time.

The problem is structural: NDU was created to ‘support’ the component schools, but with a 3-star (now 2-star) NDU-P, it was inevitable that the HQ would attempt to assume command instead. The NDU staff — which teaches no students and has no academic expertise — has no purpose beyond gaining control of component schools and curricula about which it knows nothing. It has metastasized, soaking up the budgets and support personnel of the components, constantly hiring new staffers while cutting teaching faculty. It is starving and strangling the component schools, which actually have clear missions. The most recent Command Climate Survey (about which NDU has been scrupulously dishonest) was a remarkable exercise in distrust. NDU wreaked havoc on JFSC. The schools need a 3-star champion, but he should not be involved in actually running the place. The school should be run by the council of deans, who should have hiring/firing and rating authority over the support staff. I am confident that the deans will be both far more responsive to CJCS leadership and far more capable of running their schools.

However, I was greatly puzzled by the personal venom aimed at the provost and at CISA. In my experience, the provost has been nearly powerless and continuously frustrated by NDU’s descent into Hell. And CISA is the only school at NDU that focuses on issues like terrorism and irregular warfare — i.e., the issues we seem to deal with most poorly.

I taught at the National War College for many years and loved it deeply. Unfortunately, the NDU staff greatly resented its prestige and relative independence and worked overtime to weaken it. CISA’s students used to be very junior people with little experience and not much to offer to other NDU programs. About five years ago, however, I began getting a different kind of CISA student in the electives I taught at NWC — very, very interesting folks with innovative ideas and a new focus. Curious about the change, I investigated CISA and got to know its program. Sick of the pointless control-for-the-sake-of-control and poor leadership that NDU persistently foisted on the War College, I took advantage of an opportunity to join CISA’s experimental little program supporting SOCOM at Fort Bragg. It was risky career-wise, and I’ve got to admit that a major incentive was simply escaping the all-bureaucratic-politics-all-the-time cesspool at Fort McNair. However, I have been profoundly impressed by CISA’s leadership and by my SF students at Bragg. This is a unique and creative program — I have actually recovered the powerful sense of mission that was beaten out of me during my last couple of years at McNair. This part of Mitchell’s polemic is simply and wildly wrong.

I concur with him on his last point, however. Ambassador Nesbitt does seem to be a refreshing change. Given that most of the flag officers sent to run NDU over the last several years have been time-servers (or worse) sent largely to get them out from underfoot at the Pentagon, and given the needed focus on interagency and whole-of-government issues, DOD could do itself a big favor by installing her as the fully-fledged NDU-P.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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